Adding new dimensions
March 2013
by Ilene Schneider  |  Email the author


SAN DIEGO—Organovo Holdings Inc., a creator and manufacturer of functional, three-dimensional (3D) human tissues for medical research and therapeutic applications, and the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), a national leader in translational oncology research, know there are limitations to studying cancer cells in animal models or in suspension, in terms of predicting how a drug will perform in human clinical trials. That may explain why 80 percent of drugs that enter clinical trials fail to get patents.  
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and more than half a million people (580,000) will die of cancer in 2013.  New technologies that can more accurately replicate human tissue, such as tumors and malignant disease, are important for the discovery of novel therapeutics and to deliver better medicines for patients.  
After meeting at a Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) partnering conference in 2011 and seeing the potential for synergy, Organovo and OHSU formed a collaboration to develop more clinically predictive in-vitro 3D cancer models that will ultimately advance discovery of novel cancer therapeutics. These 3D biological models are designed to show how cancer cells develop and migrate, in order to deliver better oncology therapies for patients.  
OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute, a pioneer in personalized cancer medicine, has helped to prove that it is possible to shut down cells that enable cancer to grow without harming healthy ones, helping to make once-fatal forms of the disease manageable and ushering in a new generation of targeted cancer therapies. A National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, OHSU's institute offers new treatments and technologies as well as hundreds of research studies and clinical trials.   
Organovo, which creates models of what researchers see in the human body, is collaborating with pharmaceutical and academic partners to develop human biological disease models in three dimensions. These 3D human tissues have the potential to accelerate the drug discovery process, enabling treatments to be developed faster and at a lower cost.  
According to Joseph Carroll, associate director at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, which has been involved in leading-edge cancer research that has helped to develop such therapies as Novartis' Gleevec, "Test tube creations are not real, and animal tissue is not human tissue. We want to know what the tumor really looks like, how cancer cell migration happens and what the metastatic process is, and we want to see it in the actual micro-environment."  
By applying breakthrough bioprinting technology, Organovo develops 3D, architecturally correct human disease models to improve the understanding of drug toxicity and efficacy earlier in the drug development process, enabling safer, more effective therapies. The bioprinter can "put down cells layer by layer, put the right cell types in the right positions, enlarge pieces of tissue to make them anatomically correct and show how cells interact in a 3D context as they would in the body," explains Keith Murphy, chairman and CEO of Organovo.  
The two parties expect that it will take one to two years to build the models, and three years to screen the drugs on them. The focus, according to Carroll, will be on breast and pancreatic cancers. Architecturally correct structures based on actual patient tissues can be incorporated into the models.  
As Murphy explains, "We'll be looking at solid tumors and metastatic events to see how they proceed and can be prevented. We hope to have cell assays in a few years to identify therapy candidates. We hope to have a third party, like a pharmaceutical company, to come in and develop a drug based on the research."  
"There is big commercial potential in looking at new targets, discovering new targets and developing drugs that couldn't be developed otherwise," Carroll says.  
"The collaboration will be powerful in terms of identifying target opportunities and new drug therapies that will help patients directly and build new diagnostic assays," Murphy adds.  
"We expect that this collaboration will transform the way cancer patients are treated," Carroll concludes. "Our passion is technology transfer to effect change in patient care to get it to the clinic as soon as possible."
Code: E031313

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